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AFRO-NETS> Children At Greatest Risk From Ozone Depletion

Children At Greatest Risk From Ozone Depletion
From: Environmental Ecology News <
MONTREAL, Quebec, Canada, September 16, 2003 (ENS) - The special 
vulnerability of children to the Sun's damaging ultraviolet (UV) 
rays is the theme of today's 16th anniversary of the global 
treaty that limits the emission of ozone depleting chemicals - 
the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. 
These substances are chemicals containing chlorine and bromine 
atoms, used primarily as refrigerants, fire suppressants, and fu-
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan today praised progress made under 
the Montreal Protocol, ratified by 184 countries, as "impressive" 
with scientists reporting a decline in ozone depletion and the 
first signs of recovery following efforts to eliminate the de-
structive chemicals emitted by human activities.
But 66,000 people each year are dying from melanoma and other 
skin cancers, many due to the Sun's ultraviolet radiation, and 
children are especially vulnerable, Annan recognized.
While we may be gratified with the progress that has been made 
through international cooperation, we must not be satisfied until 
the preservation of the ozone layer is assured, Annan said in his 
message marking today as International Day for the Preservation 
of the Ozone Layer.
"We cannot be complacent, Annan cautioned. The ozone layer re-
mains depleted above the Antarctic and the Arctic, as well as in 
the midlatitudes of both hemispheres of the earth.
The Antarctic ozone hole has grown rapidly this year and as of 
September 9 covered some 27 million square kilometers.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and other UN agencies today 
warned that protecting children from skin cancers that are trig-
gered by overexposure to UV radiation is a matter of urgency.
"As ozone depletion becomes more marked and as people around the 
world engage more in Sun seeking behavior, the risk of developing 
health complications from overexposure to UV radiation is becom-
ing a substantial public health concern," said WHO Director Gen-
eral Dr. Lee Jong-wook at the agency's headquarters in Geneva.
"UV radiation is of particular concern because people are often 
unaware of the health risks. The effects of exposure often do not 
appear until many years later and overexposure to the Sun poses a 
risk to all populations, not just fair skinned ones," said Dr. 
Mike Repacholi, coordinator of WHO's Radiation and Environmental 
Health Unit.
"While most of the known melanomas included in the International 
Agency for Research on Cancer statistics occur in the industrial-
ized world, this is not necessarily because only fair skinned 
populations are affected by UV radiation," said Dr. Repacholi.
"Given adequate reporting mechanisms, we would expect to see many 
more melanoma cases originating in developing countries. More-
over, cataract susceptibility has nothing to do with the skin 
type, and people living close to the equator are most likely to 
be affected," he said.
"We know that by reducing overexposure of children and adoles-
cents to the Sun," said Dr. Lee, "we can substantially reduce the 
risk of contracting skin cancers, cataracts and other conditions 
which might only appear much later in life."
To help people around the world become more aware of the risks 
from exposure to UV radiation, and to take the measures to pre-
vent overexposure, WHO's Intersun Project is today launching a 
School Sun Protection Package.
Three booklets make up the package - a guide for schools and 
teachers on why and how to develop effective sun education pro-
grams, practical teaching materials for primary school students, 
and evaluation materials to assess the effectiveness of primary 
school sun education programs.
Klaus Toepfer, executive director of the UN Environment Pro-
gramme, said, "Recent scientific findings have shown that the 
ozone layer is on the road to recovery, but we must remain vigi-
lant and more needs to be done before we can say that the problem 
is solved for good."
"The phaseout of the ozone depleting pesticide methyl bromide, 
combating the illegal trade in CFCs [chlorofluorocarbons] and 
full implementation of the Montreal Protocol in developing coun-
tries are all issues that need to be tackled, Toepfer said. "Only 
then can we say that the sky above our heads will be safe for our 
children and their children to come."
The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), an international 
organization with offices in London and Washington, warned today 
that the Montreal Protocol is at serious risk of being undermined 
by illegal trade and production of ozone depleting substances.
"We have found evidence of CFC smuggling in many parts of the 
world, particularly now in developing countries, where CFC phase-
out schedules are beginning to be felt," said, EIA's ozone layer 
campaigner Ezra Clark. "Much equipment exists in these countries 
which relies on CFCs, but the high cost of alternative chemicals 
creates a demand which is often satiated by illegal material."
A further problem which could undermine the Montreal Protocol and 
delay the recovery of the ozone layer, Clark said, is the request 
by the United States to the Secretariat of the Montreal Protocol 
for exemptions allowing it to increase its use of the fumigant 
methyl bromide - one of the most potent ozone depleting chemicals 
still in widespread use.
The Montreal Protocol meeting in Nairobi in November this year 
will decide whether to grant this controversial "critical use ex-
emptions" to the United States.
Most ozone exists in the upper part of the atmosphere. This re-
gion, called the stratosphere, is more than 10 kilometers (six 
miles) above the Earth's surface.
There, about 90 percent of atmospheric ozone is contained in the 
ozone layer, which shields us from harmful ultraviolet light from 
the Sun. Ozone in the stratosphere absorbs some of the Sun's bio-
logically harmful ultraviolet radiation. Because of this benefi-
cial role, stratospheric ozone is considered good ozone.
By contrast, ozone at Earth's surface, known as smog, is formed 
from pollutants emitted by the combustion of fossil fuels. It is 
considered bad ozone because it can be harmful to humans and 
plant and animal life.
The initial step in the depletion of stratospheric ozone by human 
activities is the emission of ozone depleting gases containing 
chlorine and bromine at Earth's surface, explains the Montreal 
Protocol Secretariat in a report reviewed by the 74 scientists 
who attended the Panel Review Meeting for the June 2002 ozone as-
sessment in Switzerland.
Most of these ozone depleting gases accumulate in the lower at-
mosphere because they are unreactive and do not dissolve readily 
in rain or snow. Eventually, the emitted gases are transported to 
the stratosphere where they are converted to more reactive gases 
containing chlorine and bromine. These more reactive gases then 
participate in reactions that destroy ozone.
Finally, when air returns to the lower atmosphere, these reactive 
chlorine and bromine gases are removed from Earth's atmosphere by 
rain and snow, the report explains.
Despite the ban on production of refrigerant gases containing 
chlorine for domestic use since January 1995, these CFCs are 
still produced in Europe for export to developing countries.
"There is strong evidence of surplus global production, and EU 
produced CFCs ending up on the black market in developing coun-
tries," Clark said.
"While we welcome the recent voluntary reductions in production 
of CFCs announced by the EU, we feel stronger actions are needed, 
and the Montreal Protocol should take more concrete steps to ac-
celerate the phaseout of these harmful ozone destroying chemi-
* * *
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2003. All Rights Re-

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